The Wire


Ben Chasny develops card based compositional system

For the next Six Organs album, Ben Chasny has developed a game-based system for making music

Six Organs Of Admittance’s Ben Chasny has developed a new system for making music based on a set of standard playing cards. The method, which he’s called hexadic, was used to record the forthcoming Six Organs Of Admittance album of the same name, which is to be released this February.

The hexadic system involves relating the cards in a deck to the notes on a guitar, although Chasny claims it’s also transferable to other instruments. A standard deck can be used, although he is also in the process of making his own set of illustrated cards. “There is a romantic element to a deck of cards,” he says, “and a tradition of art – such as the surrealist cards.

“I actually started to have these strange half-dreams as I was waking up about composing with a deck of cards, but as a game,” he reports. “So it wasn't so much like a serial composition, where I was just laying out a tone row or something. It was more engaging and entertaining. I was reading Give My Regards To Eighth Street, the collection by Morton Feldman, before I was going to bed, so I think that had something to do with it.”

The aim of the hexadic system is to break guitar players out of bad habits by creating a situation where they encounter unfamiliar tonal relationships. Chasny claims it can be used in live performance, and that the hexadic system even has a game element. “That is pretty entertaining,” he says. “At least for me! I know I laugh a lot when I have played it with friends.”

Elements of Chasny’s hexadic system are apparently sourced from occult literature. “There is a language aspect that can interact with the aspect of creating tonal structures,” he declares. “There is a graphic element that can interact with the game element. All four of those elements can act together, or exist separately.” Those four parts supposedly derive from German occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, along with French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, plus Catalan writer Ramon Llull, who inspired one of the hexadic figures.

Chasny's collaborators for Hexadic were Noel Von Harmonson (Comets On Fire, Sic Alps, Heron Oblivion) on drums, Rob Fisk (Common Eider, King Eider, Badgerlore, ex-Deerhoof) on bass and Charlie Saufley (The Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, Meg Baird, Heron Oblivion) on bass. Chasny has written briefly on the project over at the Six Organs site, and a pack of playing cards will also be produced in due course. The album is released on Drag City on 15 February. Listen to a track from the record below: